Review: The Elephant Man at WIlliamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]
by Larry Murray
The Elephant Man is the best play of the summer (so far) and it’s a shame, really, that more people won’t get to see it since it has but a short run in a small theatre, and tickets have been pretty much sold out for weeks. (There is a lottery 2.5 hours before each performance for a few tickets and standing room.) Written by Bernard Pomerance and having won three Tony Awards including Best Play in its original Broadway incarnation in 1979, it played for two years and has been made into a film, television special and had several noteworthy revivals on Broadway and in London since.
As directed by Scott Ellis, The Elephant Man is the kind of play that turns first time theatre-goers into subscribers. In fact, it is the subscribers to the WTF who snapped up most of tickets months before the box office opened in June.
Of course the actors in this production are a draw in and of themselves. Bradley Cooper goes against type to portray The Elephant Man, one of most disfigured people in history. He lived from 1862 to 1890, the last four years in a hospital under the care of surgeon Frederick Treves. Most of what we know about him is based, like the play, on the memoirs of Treves which calls him by the name of John Merrick while he signed his letters Joseph. Just what disease Merrick suffered from is still the subject of conjecture today, recent DNA tests on his hair, bones and relatives being inconclusive.